All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
Release Date: 2015
Genre: Young Adult
An exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—six stories above the ground—it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising—just like life.
Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.
The book and mental illness
This heartbreaking book is written from the point of view of both Finch and Violet, each taking their own chapters. I found that Jennifer Niven does a fantastic job in finding their individual voices and bringing them to life on paper. Violet is counting down the days until graduation, whilst Finch is counting the days he has been ‘awake’.
All The Bright Places explores how mental illness can affect the lives of those around you. Whilst there are many reviews on how mental illness has been portrayed in this book (see here, here and here) there is one thing that no-one can deny, it doesn’t hold back. Jennifer draws on her own experiences in relation to mental illness and suicide, which leads to a heart-wrenching story.
Finch’s chapters are written so well, you live through the ups and downs with him. To the point of him being high on life and seeing the beauty everywhere, down to the black hole in which his depression takes him. I could feel a lot of the things he was going through on a personal level, which is where I query whether this book should carry a trigger warning. However, it is so beautifully written that I was happy to experience his emotions with him.
Violet, on the other hand, is trying to deal with the death of her sister and best friend. When we meet Violet she is far from her previous self, withdrawn and afraid of the life she feels she doesn’t deserve. She no longer drives, writes, or spends time with her friends.
And so we meet the two of them on the school bell tower, Finch plans to kill himself and Violet isn’t sure how she ended up there. After talking each other down, they find themselves thrown together for a geography project. They must visit the wonders of Indiana, in which they plan to see all the amazing, beautiful things Indiana has to offer.
To me, the book felt to be in two parts. The first we grew to care for Finch and Violet, following their relationship which grew in a fast but believable way. The second part follows Finch’s disappearance and his eventual suicide. During this second part of the book it feels slightly disconnected, Finch has suddenly left Violet’s life and the adults around him do not seem to care. I thoroughly missed him and wanted to follow him whilst he worked through his feelings.
The book is written in such an honest and sensitive way. The chapters are from the viewpoint of either Violet or Finch, however, do not alternate. This works well as you get to follow whichever character’s narrative pushes the story forward at a good pace.
Some of their conversation is carried out via text message or Facebook, this perfectly encapsulates them as a young school age couple and flows so well. They are at the biggest crossroads of a young person’s life, with them deciding on the next step of their lives and their future at college.
I enjoyed their visits to the various places in Indiana, all of which are real except for the bookmobile park. Seeing the beauty of these places which others would find ugly was completely enticing. It genuinely made me leave my apartment and search for some bright places of my own.
I found that the relationship between Finch and Violet happened extremely quickly, and whilst I can completely understand how Violet was intrigued by Finch it felt slightly forced to begin with. This was swiftly forgotten as they started to fall in love which felt organic and true.
Whilst Violet’s world opens up and she learns to live again, Finch’s gets smaller. Violet finds she is able to drive and write again, even getting the strength to start a new blog where writers can meet and share their work. Jennifer Niven has also created this as a real place for people here.
I honestly cannot remember the last book to make me cry this much. It was a bittersweet ending which I initially hated, however, once I took it in I can see that there was no other way it could have ended. I honestly carried the weight of this book with me for weeks after.
The way in which Violet and Finch were written were so raw and resonated with me, none of it feels manufactured. Niven captures life with a mental illness perfectly and without apology.
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to read something un-put-down-able, or something with feeling.
I read All the bright places as part of the Zoella bookclub which was exclusive to WHSmith.
WHSmith included many additional things on their blog in relation to the books, some of which I’ve listed below:
Zoella and WHSmith’s reviews: here
A deleted scene from the book: here
All the bright places soundtrack: here